Thursday, May 31, 2007

Vancouver, City on the Edge of Tomorrow

(Alright, so we've stolen another title again, though props to whoever knows where this one's from!)

For quite a few of us here at The Daily Wenzel, Vancouver is like a home away from home, though in recent years we have not been able to spend as much time there as we would wish. With the city speckled with friends and relations, we always manage to find a welcome as warm as the summer days. However, as we said, the last few years have found us making only periodic trips, every other year or so. This somewhat spotty record has caused the recent construction boom in Vancouver to hit home hard. Our last visit came in 2005, after Vancouver had been awarded the 2010 Olympics, and already the construction crews were at work, converting old homes into row townhomes, such as we had seen in Calgary and Montreal. This time, office and apartment towers were sprining up along the banks of False Creek, while the suburbs of Burnaby, New Westminister, and such, were in the process of growing proper downtown cores of their own, anchored by the now ubiquitous office/condo tower complex.

With all this building, traffic in the City With No Left Turn Lanes has grown almost interminable, as rush hour no stretches unalleviated throughout the day. One of our enduring images from this trip was flying over the Lower Mainland early in the morning and seeing the long lines of cars already slowing down the main arteries. At three hours behind the eastern stock markets, businessmen begin their commute by six o'clock, starting a day that ends early in the afternoon. To capitalize on this rush, the city's numerous coffee workers also move out onto the streets to welcome the captains of industry with a warm cup of java. Flex-time workers in involved in national organizations and shuffle between home and office, also awake early to see how the rest of the world has unfolded, before making there own way into the downtown cores of their respective conurbations by mid-morning. All of these staggered arrivals and departures means that the streets of Vancouver have very few moments of respite.

Speaking of streets, we were very happy to spend time on one of our favourite strips in Canada, Commercial Drive, whose development we have enjoyed greatly over the last fifteen years, including one moment in time where it housed some twenty-seven coffee houses in nine blocks.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Information Economy, Update

A few weeks ago, we posted our thoughts on the meaning of the information economy, where products are imbued with a stories, or detailed information. In a bygone era, products were often viewed as elements of status, with goods designed in, or designed to mimic luxury materials. But in our current age, the luxury is not material, but temporal - time is the new gold standard, and having excess time, or rather the illusion of it, is the new status symbol. Products geared for consumption in this economy come with excess amounts of details, so that their owners can draw upon a wealth of product information, as if they personally had the time to investigate every aspect of the product.

This is no more obvious than in the May 2007 issue of Wallpaper. In "Score Draw", Nick Compton (who has given us economic inspiration before) interviews Jolyon fenwick and Marcus Husselby of the Internet luxury goods distributer 20ltd. On speaking about the origins of the company, Fenwick states "And we thought it a pity that luxury goods were only ever sold by identity marketing, the promise that if you buy this, you will be like this. It was also becoming less effective. And we knew that people were becoming more interested in the product stories." Elsewhere, Fenwick highlights the importance of product story or "surplus information" (insteasd of value), saying "When people look back at our time, all they will see of our luxury product is Kate Moss. There is nothing said about the design or the way things are made. That is wrong."

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Late, late night kino

With the temperatures in town remaining high well into the night, the Daily Wenzel office has been running showings of Dean Martin's satirical espionage series, Matt Helm. While based on the hard-edged novels by Donald Hamilton, Martin & Co. brought a decidely lighter atmosphere, infusing them with the same pop sensibilities as Adam West's Batman. Likewise, just as one can only watch so much Batman, four nights of Matt Helm left a few of us longing for weighty fare.

However, aside from acting as a license to break out the cocktails and 1960s loungewear, Matt Helm also provided a window to some particular behaviours that we would often like to think we have outgrown. For starters Dean Martin and friends were widely known as rampant alocholics, and often played up this angle during performances. Thus, Martin, as Helm, is constantly drinking, frequently while driving. While this is obvious meant as self-parody, given our current attitudes towards drunk driving, we wonder if these scenes would even be allowed. Another rather startling facet of the Matt Helm movies is the blatant objectification of women as sex objects. Again, parody is a function here, as the movies are filmed during the heyday of feminism and are meant to lampoon the womanizing of James Bond, altough Martin's own reputation as a member of the doll-chasing Rat Pack, highlights the aspect of self-parody.

In case our ramblings have you thinking that we were taking things a little too serious, the Matt Helm movies, with Dean Martin as the womanizing fashion photographer turned superspy, was of course the inspiration for Austin Powers, with Mike Myers effectively capturing the tongue-in-cheek whimsy of the original.

Turning Pages

Never talk politics or religion at the dinner table, goes the old adage, but that doesn't stop us from swapping literary opinions on the topics. For starters, we were very pleased with Chantal Hebert's French Kiss: Stephen Harper's Blind Date With Quebec. Hebert, who writes for Le Devoir and the Globe and Mail, echoed our earlier election analysis, highlighting the importance that Quebec played as she focuses on the factors that led not only to the (heavily predicted) collapse of the Liberal party, but also the complaceny within the Bloc Quebecois that prevented it from successfully warding off the Conservatives' late surge. While her focus is Quebec, Hebert is able to construct a national context for Harper's victory and compares it to the coalition of diverse interests that allowed Mulroney to maintain power in the 1980s.

The differences between Mulroney and Harper though are perhaps best illustrated by Linda McQuaig, and her new book Holding the Bully's Coat. McQuaig's book on Canadian complicity in post-9/11 American military adventurism has been passed rather quickly through our office. Sean Marchetto even had the pleasure of sharing a cup of coffee with McQuaig on the patio of our favourite coffee shop, Higher Ground. McQuaig's concern with the increasing Americanization of Canadian political and social elites, long documented in her other works, extends here to argue that our history of peacekeeping and reputation as an honest broker, have been placed in jeapordy by the Harper government's eagerness to expand their military roke in the Middle-East. Once the key points to McQuaig's book was the Harper government's permissive attitude towards the torture of Afghan detainee's, a subject that's been all over the Canadian media in recent days.

On a lighter note, we have discovered Continuum Books 33 1/3 series of album reviews and are currently reading Daydream Nation and look forward to the many others they have published over the last few years.

Music Update

Our musical taste of late have run decidedly electronic. In addition to a resurgent taste for the Beastie Boys ouvre (we're stuck on Paul's Boutique), we've been giving the latest albums from Dj Vadim and Armand van Helden sound fairly constant attention. Soundcatcher, Vadim's latest, is one of the best downtempo albums of the last few years, combining a dense sonic landscape with poignant guest appearances, reflecting the anti-Bush/Blair atmosphere prevalent in particular London neighbourhoods. The globe-trotting musical influences that Vadim displayed with his "band" One Self have settled down a bit into dub and Asian influences.

If Vadim's is a slow expansive, somewhat serious and international style, then van Helden's Ghettoblaster is an out-an-out party album. More than a little tongue-in-cheek, the record is thoroughly evocative of early eighties Brooklyn beat-rock, even before the samples calling for the return of "old school New York hiphop" kick out the speakers.

Also on the stereo, but not quite finding a home, is the two disc best of Antoine Clamaran. Perhaps it's the all-too-adequate lighting and the lack of mirrorballs, but the current French House master is simply failing to register, although we were rather interested in his inclusion of samples for use by the home DJ set.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Toxix Nation Update

Just a quick little something that caught our attention this weekend.

Earlier in the year we had reported on a suggestion by Health Canada to monitor a sample of women and children for chemical exposure. At the time we announced our support for the idea and called for its expansions, something the House of Commons reported on Friday might be a good idea.

While we realize that some may be afraid of such a wide-ranging and potentially invasive measure, we ultimately feel that our unprecedented exposure to chemicals of unknown long-term effect, certainly justifies the governments plans (though an initial volunteer stage would be ideal).

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Environmental Fallout

According to a recent Decima poll, the Federal Conservatives and Liberals are tied in the court of public opinion. Negative reaction to the Conservatives climate change plan has further distanced their more "liberal" wing, while the once-staunch supporters in Alberta are beginning to question their favourite party. What is more troubling for the ruling federal party is that their support in Quebec, among the most pro-Kyoto of the provinces has fallen to below 20% while the Liberals are cruising at 34%. Given that the Conservatives election success was the result of stealing seats from the Liberals in Quebec, the Conservatives are in real trouble should an election happen soon. The trouble could be especially dire if the Liberals were to steal a seat or two from the Conservatives in the Western provinces.

Elsewhere, the Premiers met to discuss "best practices" regarding climate change, and expressed their own disappointment with the Conservative Climate Change plan. Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach was the lone voice to support the "intensity targets", but found himself in good company when he dismissed a potential suggestion for emission trading among the provinces. Stelmach said, "I’m not one that looks forward to issuing licenses allowing to pollute more," he told reporters. "Especially if we’re going to be trading with other countries."

We find the statement curious, given Stelmach's support for intensity targets, a strategy that would allow total emissions to rise. Perhaps Stelmach simply does not like to issue licenses - this would be consistent with his lack of desire to regulate the oil sands. Furthermore, in refering to other countries, perhaps Stelmach feels that it would be too difficult to devise a made-Canada plan that would be compatible with international standards which are often more strict than those suggested by both the Stelmach and Harper governments. Ultimately though, the biggest barrier to foreign trade in emissions is Environmental Minister Baird's own dismissal of the idea.

In a story that really ought to be getting more coverage than it is, the Alberta government is set to considered a motion to use nuclear energy in the oil sands. Currently, natural gas is used to convert three barrels of water to steam needed to produce one barrel of oil. In order to cut down emissions, the government wants to consider replacing the gas with emissions.

We are, quite frankly, aghast that our leaders would consider nuclear waste as a solution to help clean up the oil sands.